Arnold Palmer: how to hit longer drives

By Arnold Palmer

I’ve been telling you to hit the ball hard, but let’s pause for a minute and qualify that.

No good player ever swings as hard as he can; that is, he doesn’t throw everything at the ball. Rather, it’s a matter of timing, not of overpowering the ball off the tees.

Some people can turn farther than others. The bigger the turn, the longer the arc of the club head and the better the chance to speed it up.

Every player has to stop his turn at some point. When further movement back will affect the grip on the club or alter the stance, the limit of the turn has been reached. Each player has to find this point for himself.

With my left foot pointed slightly toward the hole and my right set at a right angle to the intended line of flight and slightly behind the front foot, I have room for the turn. My hips can rotate along with my shoulders, and my head will remain fixed without impairing my vision of the ball. My feet are almost exactly as far apart as my shoulders, and my knees are Hexed slightly, giving the impression I’m about to sit down.

If I can get back to this same position at impact, I know I will hit the ball right off the tee. If I position myself wrong at the start, my chances of hitting the ball properly are reduced, unless there is some compensation in the swing. Compensations create bad habits. You cannot do the same wrong things the same way all the time because they are unnatural. But you can get in the habit of doing the right things most of the time.

Golf clubs are constructed for different distances by changing the loft of the club. The face of the driver makes almost a right angle to the ball and propels it the longest distance. The brassie or two-wood is cut with more loft and so on down to the wedge, which lies almost flat on the ground.

The feet are spread farthest apart in the stance for the driver and get closer together as the club loft increases. The stance opens, too, to the point that the wedge is hit with the feet barely apart and the left foot well behind the right.

The ball is positioned from the front toward the back. With the driver, the ball rests on the tee opposite the instep of the left foot. When you get to the five- iron, the ball rests halfway between the feet. And when you reach the wedge, it is opposite the instep of the right foot.

On my drives I concentrate on moving the left shoulder under my chin with a slow, deliberate action until I reach the top of my backswing. Now is the time to turn on the power. I have the feeling that my left hand is pulling the club down. You should be able to feel the weight leaving the right side before you start thinking about hitting the ball off the tee. This prevents a quick uncocking of the wrists a* the top of the swing and the resultant loss of all power. It also helps avert a slice, which takes all the distance from the hit. When the swing has started through and the hands are moving down, let the clubhead fly, making certain the effort seems late to insure the last-second break of the wrists.

Few things give a greater feeling of accomplishment than striking the ball with the middle of the clubface and watching it go straight and far. And there are few worse feelings of despair than those when the ball is hit with the heel of the club or with the top half of the clubface and dribbles away or shoots off into places where it was never intended to go.

It’s no disgrace to hit a golf ball crooked. There are so many things that can go wrong off the tee that even the best players have their bad days. Sam Snead, who is recognized as a picture swinger, occasionally hits the ball with a hook that makes a pitcher’s best curve ball look dinky. Ben Hogan, who holds four Open titles and record scores in both the Open and Masters, was a notorious hooker and ready to quit the game until long hours of labor on the practice tees got the ball moving in the opposite direction-from left to right. With few exceptions, most power hitters produce hooking action, which I believe is the correct way for the ball to fly.

In 1958, when I first won the Masters, I hit a drive on the seventeenth hole that hooked a little too much, smacked into a tree, and almost put me in the land of bogey. Fortunately it bounced back into the fairway and I was able to reach the green with an iron and get my par. I was lucky there since all players make mistakes. The idea is to reduce these mistakes to a minimum.

Until you get a slight hooking action, you aren’t coming into the ball right. The average player, I mean.

At most courses, there are four par-five holes and par is 72. When you can hit the long ball consistently off the tee, the par fives are reduced to par fours and par for you is 68. The shorter hitter is at a disadvantage most of the time. When the long-baller is on the green or mighty close, the shorter hitter has almost a full pitch shot. He’s playing an easy par-five hole with this

shot, but the long hitter has only a chip or two putts for his birdie-and is within eagle range.

One of the most important factors in setting yourself up for the long hit is the grip. You must hold the club firm, and use the strong position. That is, have the left thumb alongside the shaft on the right side rather than on top. The right hand will fall in line if you overlap the right pinkie be- tween the first two fingers of the left hand and place it firmly in the valley there.

I’m convinced that most players who slice take the clubhead back outside the line of flight the first six inches from the ball. Concentrate on moving the clubhead straight back. This will force you into the correct hitting position at the top. There is no breaking of the wrists until the hands pass the right hip.

Use a driver with a medium to soft shaft in the beginning. The softer shaft with more whip will give the ball a longer flight with less physical effort. The stiff-shafted club must be swung much harder to produce an equal amount of force.

The length of the driver is a factor in hitting the long ball, too. The longer the club, the bigger the arc and the more speed. It is harder to control the longer driver but, once you get the feeling of the long ball, it is easy to move back to a club of average length.

Many times I have been accused of swinging so hard that my eyes bulge. No doubt I have slashed at the ball on occasions when the heat was on and my temperature was a few degrees higher than normal. For the most

part, though, I think it’s the last-second release of the club as it comes back to the hitting position that gives this impression.

I hit down on the ball more than most because I believe that the club- head and the ball should meet at the bottom of the arc of my swing. The more popular conception is that you hit the ball on the upswing. When you do hit the ball on the upswing, the ball gets a higher flight. This shot is more difficult to control if there is any wind; it does not have as much roll and thus costs you distance.

I have the feeling of starting back to the ball from the top with my left hand. At one time I was a bad hooker, but I always managed good distance and gradually learned to control the amount of hooking action. I still have a tendency to hook because I’m hanging onto the club for dear life with the left hand.

Try it and see if you don’t get more distance off the tee with your driver..

Comments

  1. I have always enjoyed watching and listen to Arnold Palmer. He has a common sense approach to golf and strives to ‘make it more enjoyable for all to play. His advice to solid contact for long distance is right on.

    http://hittingthegolfball.com

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